Florida lawmakers’ decision to end mandatory final exams for every class will mean that more teachers’ performance will be judged on subjects they don’t teach.
Concerned about the amount of testing in schools — and pressured by activists and educators — this year lawmakers rescinded a state law that requires school districts to have a standard final assessment in any class that doesn’t already have a statewide exam. In most cases that’s a test, but it could be a final project or compilation of a student’s work.
Many districts jumped on the chance to get rid of the tests, which are also known as end-of-course exams.
But eliminating end-of-course exams means confronting an old problem again: Florida law requires teachers are evaluated based on whether students miss, meet or exceed expected results on state standardized tests. So how do you rate teachers if there’s no test?
Several large Florida schools districts say they will use state test scores to evaluate those teachers. That means some art, music or gym teachers will be judged based on their students’ scores on the state reading test.
“In some cases teachers are definitely not happy with it,” said Sharon Glickman, president of Broward Teachers Union. “And to a certain extent we’re not either. But it’s the best of, I hate to say it, two evils.”
Glickman says using state exam scores is preferable to the alternative: New exams in every subject, either purchased or designed by school districts. Some districts were planning to add hundreds of end-of-course exams this year.
“How can we create these tests?” she said. “And how do we know they’re accurate and reliable?”
Evaluation systems must meet some state requirements, but are part of the contract negotiated between districts and unions. They can vary from one district to another. Broward schools had no plans to use local end-of-course exams in teacher evaluations.
In the past, schools have used school-wide or district-wide averages on state reading tests to evaluate teachers in subjects without a standardized exam. That meant teachers were judged on the performance of students they didn’t teach — or didn’t even attend the school where the teacher worked.
The Florida Education Association estimated 70 percent of teachers were evaluated using school-wide or district-wide scores. Last year, the statewide teachers union challenged the law in court. Lawmakers changed the law so that teachers had to be evaluated using the scores of students they taught.
Most teacher unions oppose the use of test scores to evaluate teachers.
Despite lawmakers discouraging the practice, the State Department of Education says it’s fine. Schools can evaluate teachers using state test results, as long as they only use students in that teacher’s class.
So art, music or gym teachers could still be judged based on reading test scores.
The local end-of-course exams could have solved the latest problem for a law that has been altered several time since it was passed in 2011.
Lawmakers also reduced the emphasis on test results in evaluations in this year. Instead of test results comprising up to half of a teacher’s score, now they can make up as little as one-third of the score.
Miami-Dade teachers union president Fedrick Ingram says the district will keep using school-wide or district-wide scores to evaluate some teachers.
But they’re discussing other ways to do evaluations.
“We have to negotiate with the district,” Ingram said, “and so the possibilities of that changing are very real.”
But Ingram said the fact that the law keeps changing year after year is proof that there’s too much emphasis on test results in Florida schools.
“We all know it because the house of cards as it relates to this high-stakes testing is starting to fall.”
Ingram says that’s why the requirement for end-of-course exams is gone this year.
But some districts are still planning to use them.
In Orange County, schools will be more lenient this year – new exams will be graded a curve. But a district spokesman says the results will still count toward a teacher’s evaluation.